Business & Policy
From the Editor: September 2010
Our Health and Food Crisis
By Kristy Nudds
Get ready for a food fight. Food has suddenly emerged as a public issue
and maintaining public confidence in food has become a key political
issue for federal, provincial and municipal governments.
Get ready for a food fight. Food has suddenly emerged as a public issue and maintaining public confidence in food has become a key political issue for federal, provincial and municipal governments. Its importance will only increase in the coming decade, and farmers must climb into the ring.
The local food movement, coupled with the startling increase in food recalls and food safety concerns in the last several years, has served as a wake-up call for politicians that the public wants more attention focused on what they put in their mouths and how it is regulated. However, it’s the direct effect food has on health, and most importantly, it’s effect on the cost of health care, that will make food a key player in how future policy is shaped.
Both opposition parties have introduced platform documents that detail a comprehensive food policy to be implemented should they form the next government. Both are heavy on local food production and call for an overhaul of Canada’s food safety system. However, both fall short when it comes to the relationship between food and health.
This is not surprising. It’s easier to focus on issues that are perceived as important to voters without really delving into how one issue affects another in the long term. A long-standing bad habit of our federal and provincial ministries is that, for the most part, they seem to operate independently of one another, and the link between health and agriculture has been largely ignored.
This is changing, and it must. In early August, the Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario released a report from a workshop it held earlier in the year entitled “Food and Health 2010: Advancing the Policy Agenda.” It calls for a Canadian food strategy that addresses both the health of Canadians and the health of the agri-food industry.
It’s an ambitious policy, but, as the authors state, not impractical. To work, it will need to involve industry, government, social agencies and you, the farmers. This policy, or something like it, must be implemented sooner rather than later, as the bulging costs related to health care threaten to bust provincial budgets in coming years. Fuelling the rise in health-care costs to government – Ontario has seen its health-care budget expand from 23 to nearly 45 per cent of its operating budget in just nine years – is obesity and diseases caused by expanding waistlines.
At the municipal level, food is impacting more than just health budgets. Gord Hume, author of a new book called The Local Food Revolution says that “City Halls are the epicenter of the food crisis and most communities don’t know that.” He argues that, in addition to health-care costs, food drives many daily functions of municipalities, from growing food to processing, production, transporting for distribution, and – something not given much thought until now – landfill issues resulting from food wastes.
Food will also drive future urban plans, as people want more access to healthy, locally produced food. The current trend of big-box superstores on the outskirts of town that discourage physical activity and offer limited local food choices is being questioned.
Appeasing consumers and industry on a national, provincial and municipal level will require strong leadership and acknowledgment that food production is crucial to Canada’s future well-being. Agricultural producers and their organizations are poised to play a key role; they need to make sure they’re part of the discussion and not knocked out in the first round.